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Michael Bloomberg Airs Ads Featuring Barack Obama; Interview with Former Jeb Bush Campaign Director; Interview with Former Senator William Cohen (R-ME). Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired February 26, 2020 - 10:30   ET



BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: -- curriculum. So they want to get these students back and, you know, here for some time in the United States before they can go back to school after the spring break. So that's sort of the thinking that we're seeing with all of this.

But, again, it's in the northern region of Italy, where we're seeing those numbers of coronavirus cases really go up, just 52 more just from yesterday, 374 confirmed cases in that area of Italy, 12 dead.

So certainly, this is --


GINGRAS: -- a precautionary move at this point --



GINGRAS: -- for these universities, but you can certainly expect this is going to go up even more.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And the question is, is it the first of other travel restrictions?

GINGRAS: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: We're not there, but it's certainly something to watch. Brynn Gingras, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: A U.S. service member stationed in South Korea has now tested positive for coronavirus. This is the first American service member to be infected with the virus anywhere in the world.

HARLOW: A 23-year-old man -- that's who it is -- is now in isolation at Camp Humphreys, as officials work to determine if any others may have been exposed, and work to make sure that it does not spread.


MICHAEL F. GREMBLAY, USAG HUMPHREYS COMMANDER: Our number-one priority is to protect the force. And we're putting that into action now. If you are not feeling well, stay home. There is absolutely no penalty.


HARLOW: Fifteen others are being kept in quarantine at Camp Humphreys, 10 of them are active duty soldiers.

Well, ahead, Michael Bloomberg, looking to attract voters by touting his relationship with former President Barack Obama. Critics say he's not exactly telling that story of their relationship straight, and that it's more complicated. That's next.



SCIUTTO: Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg will take the stage at tonight's CNN town hall. And despite recent attacks from rival candidates, he has seen a bump in national polls.

HARLOW: One way his campaign has tried to lure voters, using ads, a lot of them touting his relationship with former President Barack Obama. The ads, not sitting well with one person. That is, the former vice president, Joe Biden.

CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny is in South Carolina with more. Yes, Biden doesn't like to see that.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, Jim and Poppy. No. I mean, and the images are so powerful, when you see Barack Obama standing next to Michael Bloomberg. You know, they're playing again and again, so many times.

It leaves the impression there may be an endorsement here. Of course, we know that Barack Obama, the former president, is not giving an endorsement. But the relationship, I'm told by aides, is complicated.



ZELENY (voice-over): Barack Obama is staying on the sidelines of the Democratic primary fight, though you might not know it from all those campaign ads.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): A great president and an effective mayor, leadership that makes a difference.

ZELENY (voice-over): In Michael Bloomberg's unprecedented barrage of advertising, the former president is playing a starring role.

OBAMA: He's been a leader throughout the country for the past 12 years, Mr. Michael Bloomberg is here.

ZELENY (voice-over): On that day in October 2013, the president was actually giving a nod to Bloomberg's tenure as mayor, a point the Bloomberg presidential campaign left out.

OBAMA: I want to give a special shout-out to a man who's been an extraordinary -- extraordinary mayor for this city. He's been a leader throughout the country for the past 12 years, Mr. Michael Bloomberg is here.


ZELENY (voice-over): A week before Super Tuesday, when Bloomberg faces voters for the first time in this presidential race, the Obama ads are playing all day, every day and on many channels at once.

They've certainly drawn attention, including from Obama's actual partner in the White House.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Isn't it amazing? We found out how everybody is Barack's best friend now?


BIDEN: Man, I look at all these ads, I say (ph), right (ph)? It's amazing. I wonder where the hell they were -- heck they were when I was vice president with him.

ZELENY (voice-over): But for Joe Biden, it's anything but a laughing matter. Bloomberg has spent more than $38 million and counting on two Obama ads alone. That's about three times as much money Biden has spent on his advertising overall.

So just how close were Bloomberg and Obama? The mayor and the president found common ground on guns and climate change, but they had many policy differences, like on the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration's signature achievement.

In a 2010 speech, just months after the passage of Obamacare, Bloomberg, then an independent, called the law a disgrace. He described it as just another program that's going to cost a lot of money. A decade later, as he's running for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bloomberg has fully embraced it and now supports a Medicare-like public option that builds on the law.

The ads have drawn the ire of several former Obama staffers who have not forgotten Bloomberg's tepid endorsement of the president, just five days before his 2012 re-election.

In an op-ed in his company's news service, Bloomberg praised Mitt Romney but said he would grudgingly vote for Obama. He wrote, "rather than uniting the country around a message of shared sacrifice, he engaged in partisan attacks and has embraced a divisive populist agenda focused more on redistributing income than creating it."

In a 2016 speech discovered by CNN's KFile, Bloomberg acknowledged the slight.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The second Obama election, I wrote a very backhanded endorsement of Obama.

ZELENY (voice-over): It's an open question whether the ads actually work. Tracy Hughes, a military veteran from South Carolina, said she did a double-take when she first saw them. Now, she knows Obama didn't endorse Bloomberg or anyone yet.

TRACY HUGHES, SOUTH CAROLINA VOTER: I believe it's just a ploy to me, to use President Barack Obama, his legacy and his history, to try and win votes. And I think it's not -- it's not a good thing at all to do. Because we can see right through it.



ZELENY: Now, Bloomberg is hardly the only Democratic presidential candidate trying to borrow some of Obama's popularity, if you will. But he's the only one that has unlimited money to spend doing it.

Consider this number again, $38 million on those Obama ads alone, again, three times as much as Biden has spent on ads everywhere, all kinds of his ads. So certainly a disparity there that Joe Biden is noticing. We'll see if it pays off.

Of course, Bloomberg not on the ballot here, in South Carolina on Saturday. But Super Tuesday, that's when we'll see if all of this has worked or not -- Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Yes. His national spending, Bloomberg, is a factor of 10, 10 times what --

HARLOW: It's amazing.

SCIUTTO: -- Bernie Sanders has spent, you know? It's unbelievable.


ZELENY: It's incredible.

HARLOW: We'll know more, Tuesday, as you say, Jeff. Great piece, thank you.

Joining us now, former communications director for Jeb Bush's presidential campaign and self-proclaimed Never Trumper Tim Miller. Tim, good to have you here.


HARLOW: Hey, you've got a great piece in "The Bulwark," and you outline the five things Democrats need to do to stop Bernie Sanders. Did they do it last night? MILLER: I think Joe Biden's doing what he needed to do. He went at Sanders, I thought, very effectively on his endorsement of a primary against President Obama, speaking of President Obama. That's not -- that's not a popular position in the primary.

He did well contrasting on foreign policy with the (ph) way that he would stand up to Xi and to the socialist Latin American leaders, in contrast with what Sanders had said.

The guy that's not doing what they need to do is Mike Bloomberg. And, you know, I wrote in that piece that Mike Bloomberg needs to start immediately going after Bernie Sanders. I think Jeff just reported he's spent $38 million touting his non-endorsement with Obama; he's spent zero million attacking Bernie Sanders.

And a poll came out this morning that showed Texas on Super Tuesday, Biden would be winning by seven points if Bloomberg wasn't in the race. But instead, Sanders is tied for the lead.

So right now, it looks to me like Michael Bloomberg is spending a half a billion dollars to make Bernie Sanders the nominee of the Democratic Party. And so I don't think the message has gotten through to them quite yet.

SCIUTTO: That's an interesting point, interesting effect. Circular firing squad is a description we've heard a lot about --

MILLER: For sure.

SCIUTTO: -- last night's debate, but also last week's as well. And I want to play Amy Klobuchar, Senator Amy Klobuchar tonight, making that exact point. Have a listen, I want to get your reaction.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we spent the next four months tearing our party apart, we're going to watch Donald Trump spend the next four years tearing our country apart.


SCIUTTO: Now, you wrote, last week, Tim, that, you know, Republicans lived through very much the same thing in 2016, and we shouldn't forget that, right? I mean, it was a brutal primary, 2016 Republican primary. Is this worse among Democrats, is it more damaging for them in your view, or about the same?

MILLER: I don't know if it's worse, but it's certainly -- it's certainly similar in one way. Look, as nasty as the primary was, nobody ever went at President Trump, with the exception of Jeb, really. And I think Jeb was kind of uniquely ill-suited to do it because of the contrast with Trump. Until they were about to drop out, right?

You know, Marco famously, you know, got personal in those attacks on Trump, you know, about his hand size. But that was, you know, the 13th debate in, after 12 debates of being nice. Ted Cruz did the same thing.


MILLER: And you're seeing this repeat itself this time. Elizabeth Warren isn't going after Sanders, but yet, you know, Pete and Amy are brutally going after each other. Bloomberg and Warren are brutally going after each other. It's reminiscent of the Christie-Rubio murder- suicide --


MILLER: -- we (ph) like to call it, in '16.

HARLOW: Well, look, Debbie Dingell of Michigan, obviously a key state in all this, a Democrat, just said last night's debate was a, quote, "embarrassment" for everyone. It seems like she agrees with Klobuchar, and we've got to stop fighting.

Alisyn Camerota did a really interesting voter panel with African- American voters from South Carolina this morning, and there was one part that struck me, and I wonder if you agree with this assessment. Here is Alex Belk, a South Carolina Democrat.


ALEX BELK, SOUTH CAROLINA DEMOCRAT: I think Biden feels that blacks going to vote for him just because of Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- it's a given.

BELK: You know? He thinks -- he thinks that's a given, and we don't all think alike. So don't put us in a box, and I feel like that's what Biden is doing to blacks in South Carolina.


HARLOW: Is it, Tim, what he's doing to blacks in South Carolina?

MILLER: You know, I'm going to defer to his judgment, if that's his experience. I would say this. I remember Biden saying last night that -- exactly the opposite, that he said he's trying earn -- earn those votes, and he realizes that he has to earn those votes. But, you know, maybe that message didn't get across.

You know, look, that's going to be a critical part of this electorate, looking at 2020. And the only way for somebody to dethrone Sanders is to get a coalition of white voters and voters of color. I think Biden's the best positioned to do that. We'll see if he can do it on Saturday.

SCIUTTO: Right. Tim, just very quickly, you hear a lot of --


SCIUTTO: -- panic in the Democratic Party, the prospect of a Bernie Sanders nomination. It rings familiar to me because I remember similar panic among Republicans, perhaps yourself included, about a Trump nominee. And by the way --


MILLER: Definitely.

SCIUTTO: -- Trump was, and Trump won, right? I mean, is it -- are they overplaying that panic --


SCIUTTO: -- do they know so much, frankly, is the question, or do the voters know more?

MILLER: Yes, I admit it, I was wrong. I'll be the first to raise my hand. I was panicked, and I thought he'd lose and I was wrong. I'm still panicked about the way he's conducting himself.

But, look, I think that just because one, you know, crazy, you know, outlandish electoral result happened doesn't mean that you have to throw out logic for all future, you know, electoral results --

SCIUTTO: Fair enough.

MILLER: -- I think you can just look at the data here, and you know, it's going to be an easier path to victory if you can win some of the voters who --


MILLER: -- Democrats won in 2018 in the suburbs. And that's going to be hard for Bernie.

SCIUTTO: Yes, it's a good point, it's a good point. Tim Miller, great to have you on. We know we'll have you back.


HARLOW: Thanks (ph).

SCIUTTO: A stunning rebuke from the Senate from dozens of former senators of both parties, including 20 Republicans. We're going to speak to one of those senators, next.



HARLOW: This morning, 70 -- count them, 70 -- former senators, Republicans and Democrats, are taking aim at the current Senate and calling for change.

SCIUTTO: The bipartisan group, stating in an open letter that the Senate right now is not functioning, quote, "as the framers of the Constitution intended."

With us now is a former Republican senator, William Cohen of Maine. He also served in the House, served as secretary of defense, signed this letter. Good to have you on the program as always.

I want to quote from this letter because it's a pretty remarkable indictment of the Senate --


SCIUTTO: -- as it stands today. You and your colleagues wrote, "The partisan gridlock that is all too routine in recent decades has led the executive branch to effectively 'legislate' on its own terms. The Senate's abdication of its legislative and oversight responsibilities erodes the checks and balances of the separate powers that are designed to protect the liberties on which our democracy depends."

Tell us about your argument there, and how you've seen that play out, not just in terms of legislation but the impeachment process.

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER MAINE SENATOR (R): Well, we are surrendering the power of the Senate. The Senate is there to legislate, and that means to have bills introduced, bills referred to committees, subcommittees, open dialogue, challenge, debate, forming a consensus and bringing it to the floor and debating it in full display before the American people. That's the business of a legislator.

That's not being done. There are some 200 bills sitting at the desk of the majority leader today, none of which are going to be taken up either out of deference to the political interests of the majority party, or to that of the president. So basically, they are not legislating, they're vegetating.

And what we want to see --


COHEN: -- what we want to see is the Senate be what it's supposed to be. It's supposed to be a body in which it works for the benefit of the people.

It's been referred to as a legislative graveyard. To go back to another metaphor, I'd like to see it be a legislative garden, where the senators pull out the weeds of those things that are no longer relevant, trim the trees that build all the support for our great institutions, and make sure that we keep that in good repair. That is not being done now.

So I think the 70 members of the -- former members of the Senate have looked at that institution and saying, look, things weren't all perfect when we were there --


COHEN: -- but we sat down with each other, we worked across the aisle, we ate dinners together, we traveled together. And we understood that we needed to do things for the American people. And so, today, that's not taking place and that's the reason why we felt compelled to send that open letter. HARLOW: And you know, in most -- in most jobs across this country, if

you don't do your job, you don't keep your job and you certainly don't get paid for doing your job. And yet there really are not any -- many repercussions from the American people, from the voters on a lack of willingness to act in a more bipartisan manner in that chamber.

You remember what Jeff Flake said, Republican senator of Arizona, when he was stepping down? There is no sort of political benefit to being and acting in a bipartisan way. How did we get here and why?

COHEN: Well, it's taken some time. This is not unique to this president or this group of senators, it's been going on for at least a decade or longer. Some of it has to do with external pressures -- that of social media, talk radio, specific channels that have a particular view and then hammer that view home to the constituents, who then pressure the members of Congress.

But you have to ask yourself, why are you a senator? Why are you there? Are you acting out of sheer fear that if you speak up and take a position that's controversial --

HARLOW: Right.

COHEN: -- you'll be punished? If that's the reason you're in the Senate, to simply be safe and to play it safe, then you really -- you're really undercutting what the role of that Senate should be. You're losing respect (ph) -- 20 percent of the American people have respect for the Senate, and that number's going down. And it's going down because people are not doing their job.

And as you point out, Poppy, in any private sector, if you are --


COHEN: -- not doing your job, you'd be out.

HARLOW: Totally.

COHEN: And yet -- so what we're trying to do is build a caucus and have a bipartisan caucus and say, what reforms need to be taken? What changes can we make? Why can't we stop the abuse of the filibuster, why has everything come to a standstill in the Senate?

With -- again, legislators, let's not be lemmings. Don't just follow whatever the president or your leader says. You're an individual, you're a sovereign entity in the Senate and you need to start exercising that power. You've given it away in terms of war-making, you've given it away in terms of international trade, you've given it away in terms of budgetary priorities.



COHEN: You're giving your power away. And so you're seeing the erosion of a great institution by nonaction. HARLOW: Secretary --

SCIUTTO: Sobering.

HARLOW: -- Cohen -- yes, sobering but important assessment. Thank you very much for your time --

COHEN: Pleasure to be with you.

HARLOW: -- this morning.

The president will speak to the nation, the world tonight when he gives that press conference about the coronavirus at 6:00 p.m. Eastern. Stay with CNN for all of the latest.